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The Thug
ABC's Armchair Theatre (ITV), 15.ii.59

Cast in order of appearance:
Nick: Stratford Johns
Boy: Roger Jones
Edward Starkie: Tom Gerard
Polly: Gillian Vaughan
Mike Thompson: Keith Faulkner
Jackie Underdown: Ian Hughes
Lewis Black: Alan Bates
Charlotte Owen: Sheila Allen
John Owen: Ian Hunter
Florrie: Annabel Maule
Police sergeant: Edward Dentith

Writer: Jane Arden
Designer: Assheton Gorton
Director: Philip Saville

One morning, in a coffee bar in North London, Lewis Black, a boy with a record of violence, beats up another boy. Black takes refuge in a basement record shop owned by John Owen, a man with a terrible secret, and his daughter Charlotte. These three people meet in the crisis of their lives, and their fears explode in the chaos of one day.

The Thug

JANE ARDEN'S PLAY, "The Thug," is this Sunday's Armchair Theatre production. The play, which ranges between the raucous, flowing life of a coffee bar and the backwater of a far from prosperous record shop, is set in London, but it could be any big city. And the time is the immediate, pulsing present.
Charlotte (Sheila Allen) is a sad girl, hiding away from life in her father's dingy basement record shop in a drab part of London. Brought up in sheltered, well-regulated respectability, Charlotte is timid of the changing world and cleaves to the basement refuge, to the familiar background with its outmoded ideas, and to the photograph album that has become a symbol of safety. But most of all she clings to her father (Ian Hunter), shutting her eyes to his own heavy anxieties.
He encourages Charlotte to make friends with people of her own age. They live, he thinks, like two moles hidden away from everything. while across the road is the urgent vitality of the coffee bar, peopled with a mixed crowd of boys and girls -- a cross-section of local youth, good, bad and indifferent, boisterous and subdued. But Charlotte is afraid of these strangers. Besides, they might laugh at her limp.
But three of the youths call at the shop. Among them is Lewis Black (Alan Bates), a restless boy whose brushes with authority are little more than defiance and an unconscious kicking out against a society that he feels has somehow failed him.
In the play are seen the events that make Charlotte and Lewis and his friend Jackie (Ian Hughes) start, at last, to grow up. Lewis has no stable background, no outlet for expression. "There are many Lewis Blacks in the world," says Jane Arden, whose insight into the unhappy background of her characters stems from first-hand experience.
"There is a pool of these people outside normal society," she said. "I moved among them myself for several months once. They are strays from the herd, boys who feel vaguely neglected and are groping pathetically for something, without knowing what.
"They are sensitive and intuitive, but inarticulate. They have no outlet -- no way of expressing themselves. So, inevitably, their vitality gets out of hand and is mistaken for premeditated hooliganism. Lewis Black is really no more a thug than he is a Teddy Boy.
"The Teddies hide behind their own uniformity. It gives them a false sense of security."
Scarlet stockings, a violet dress and lively, lucid talk are the outward marks of Jane Arden's colourful personality. Married to the play's director, Philip Saville, Jane says of their working partnership, "After nine years of marriage, we have the tremendous advantage of a mental shorthand that saves endless discussion. Philip understands so quickly what I'm getting at."
She, in turn, writes with warm understanding, and with a sense of exploring human relationships and personal conflict.
This is Sheila Allen's second leading part under Philip Saville's direction. She was in "Boy With the Meat Axe" at the end of last year. He saw her first at the London Studio, where actors and actresses met between jobs to keep in trim professionally and to exchange ideas. |||

Reviewed in The Times Monday, 16 February 1959, unsigned

"Dynamic Divorced from Theme"

In "The Thug," presented last night in A.B.C.'s television series "Armchair Theatre," Miss Jane Arden returns to the theme of withdrawal from society and the barrier between the generations which pervaded her earlier work "The Party."
But the main dynamic of the play is barely related to its theme; and if one has to isolate the chief flaw in this alternately powerful and infuriatingly arbitrary piece of work, that is it. Charlotte is a lame girl who keeps a gramophone record shop with her father; she has grown so dependent on him and so frightened of the outer world that he dare not tell her that the business is nearly bankrupt and that he has only a few months to live. The task of the action is to bring about a climax in which he can speak the truth and enable her to sever her ties with the past. To bring this about Miss Arden introduces a catalyst -- the thug -- who proceeds to monopolize the drama.
Across the road from the shop is a coffee bar which is the meeting place of Lewis, the thug, and his friends in Slim Jim ties and leather jackets. Both Miss Arden and the producer, Mr Philip Saville, expended much effort in attempting to establish their close-knit society; but in spite of mobilizations around the juke box, sudden outbursts of violence and the throwaway style of performance it remained an abstract thing, heavily indebted to the American theatre, and lacking native authenticity. And it is hard not to feel that the group have been introduced in altogether too calculated an opposition to the shy, vulnerable girl.
Lewis invades the cloistered calm of the record shop and undertakes Charlotte's education. He has no motive for doing so; has no initial information about her and no means of knowing that her father is ill. Their dialogue, spasmodically effective though it is, takes place too openly at the dramatist's convenience. They tell each other what it is desirable that the audience should know. And when, in the end, Lewis is led away by the police there is a double dissatisfaction, that the essential theme should have been put into the background, and that the interloper should have failed to fire the writer's imagination.
Often brilliant visually and in its use of music, the production was exciting whenever Mr Alan Bates was on the screen. His broodingly lonely and savage performance of Lewis gave the part a profundity never suggested by the lines alone. |||

A note about Armchair Theatre:

Armchair Theatre came in several guises.  Called simply 'Armchair Theatre', it played weekly on the network.  In the Midlands and the North, it was billed as 'ABC Armchair Theatre', after its makers, the Associated-British Picture Corporation, which also produced "The Avengers".  As the plainer-named 'Armchair Theatre', it continued for many years under ABC's post-1968 London outlet, Thames.
The series, in any guise, was a different drama with different actors every week, and was the most popular ABC programme after 'The Avengers'. |||